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Festivus Airing of Grievances

Posted by Robin Abrahams  December 23, 2010 06:23 AM

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It's the day we've all been waiting for, regardless of religion, race, creed, or position on the acceptability of e-mail thank-you notes: Festivus.

A Festivus for the rest of us.

Miss Conduct is, for many reasons, not a member of the Society Is Going to Hell in a Handbasket Society. And I discourage pearl-clutching and whinging among my readers. If you don't like your social environment, well, you are a part of it: take charge and do something.

But for one special time of year, we can all gripe and whine and Air our Grievances fully!

This year, the authors of the five most eloquently-aired Grievances will receive a signed copy of my book, Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. (Be cool and don't spam the thread, okay?) The winners will be announced Monday, December 27 at 5pm.

Airing Grievances is all about outrage, invective, and entitlement. That's what makes Festivus so special. It's not about bigotry, though. So you are free to Grieve about any behavior that you want, but Grievances about particular groups of people will get reported. Got it? Behavior, not group identity.

Fester away! To inspire you, here are my Grievances of Festivi past:


1: People standing in stupid places. Look, I know that subway systems are difficult and counterintuitive. But please, tourists and newcomers, don't get off the subway and then stand right there in front of the door while you figure it out. Move to the side, okay? People have a trajectory of motion going on. This also applies to people who stand in the middle of the grocery aisle, with cart, consulting their lists and who have animated conversations in front of the bar at parties or in front of the sinks in the public bathroom. And many more. Bottom line: if you're going to just stand somewhere, consulting a map or your old college roommate whom you haven't seen since the early 90's or the still small voice within you, move to the side. Are you standing in the path of motion? Are you standing between people and their objects of desire? Then respect the trajectory of others and move.

2: People honking when I'm stopped for a pedestrian on the crosswalk. I am not going to run over the old lady and scatter her groceries across the pavement for your convenience, annoying driver behind me. I am not even going to run over the entitled-looking, irritatingly chatty group of undergrads in their stupid Peruvian knit caps dawdling their chemically-impaired way across the street for you. So stop honking at me.

3: Salesclerks who don't acknowledge my presence.This one pains me to write. As I have often said before, I am pro-labor, and I have many times urged my readers to be kind to salesclerks, servers, and others who must deal with the public for low wages. I hope there is a special circle in Hell for people who tell overworked salesclerks to "Smile!," especially during the run-up to the holiday season.

But consideration has to go two ways. I don't care if salesclerks engage me in chatty banter or express genuine concern for my well-being, but I prefer they not process me as though I were a side of beef. Please, look me in the eye. Say hello. Stop talking to your co-workers for a minute. If I greet you or say thank you first, respond. I am not buying illegal drugs from you. It's not a breach of protocol to look at me long enough that you could identify me in a lineup.
4: People who don't RSVP promptly, accurately, or at all.
Why is this so hard? You get the invitation. You check with your significant other, if applicable. And you respond. The entire thing shouldn't really take more than 48 hours from receipt of invitation to response. If there is some complication--a possible conflict, a need for childcare--then you let the inviter know that you've received their invitation and you hope you can come, but you have an issue that needs to be resolved first, and they can expect your final answer by whenever.Then you show up if you've RSVP'ed. You don't bring anyone who wasn't invited, or show up if you said you wouldn't, or fail to show up if you said you would, unless you call first.  It's not that difficult! It's Repondez S'il Vous Plait, not Rocket Science, Very Problematic. 

The non-RSVP issue is stressful for big, planned events, but it can be just as irritating for smaller ones. Particularly this situation: you e-mail a friend to suggest getting together for dinner or a movie, and list some nights in the upcoming weeks that are free. Your friend doesn't get back to you for days. In the meantime, you get other offers for those nights, or start to realize that some of them will need to be used to catch up on work or chores. But your calendar is being held hostage by someone who will not commit. This is annoying, so call already.


1. The anti-trivialization fascists. These are the people who, whenever a journalist or blogger writes about something that they themselves find trivial, immediately shoot off irascible comments, e-mails, and letters asking Doesn't the Writer Know We Are in a Recession/There Is a War On and/or Is This the Most Important Thing You Have to Write About? Look, people, this recession is going to last at least a couple of years according to the most optimistic projections, and those troops are going to be in Iraq for a while, too. We can't all go around like characters in a Bergman film until peace and prosperity are restored. We'll forget how to enjoy them when they are if we do.

Furthermore, if a person is a fashion blogger, then yes, they are going to blog about Michelle Obama's election-night dress, not the significance of the United States' first African-American president or the international reaction to the event. Their beat is style, not political history or geopolitics. And don't assume that because something is trivial to you that it is meaningless to everyone. Many wonderful things are "trivial": art, cheese, sports, fashion, humor, candy, family traditions, opera, flowers, hairstyles, music, champagne, poetry, parlor games. In other words, the stuff that makes life worth living: the stuff that makes it life, not merely survival. Have more dignity than to give yourself away by revealing your cramped soul so nakedly.

2. Ungrateful pedestrians. If I give you the right of way when I don't have to--especially if you've already gotten yourself out in the street, then see me, then keep going--I want a thank-you wave. And I want you to move a little faster than you ordinarily would, assuming that's physically possible. Don't saunter, scuttle, and acknowledge that I'm the one who has the right of way. I wave and scuttle when someone lets me cross, and I expect the same from you. 


1. The cell-phone people. Yes, I know it's a cliche, and I almost hate to post it because of that. But no, you do not take a cell-phone call when you are at dinner with me, or being entertained in my home, unless you for some reason need to (e.g., you are on call at work, your kid is with a babysitter, your mother's test results are coming back today) and you've explained to me (without necessarily giving me details) that you need to keep a phone on. And even then, you only answer the phone if it is one of those emergency or semi-emergency situations. Your boyfriend not being able to find the ketchup? Not an emergency. Your sister wanting to discuss who's going to host Passover, since she threw the big Hanukkah party? Not an emergency. Martha Coakley wanting your vote? Not an emergency. For some reason, it took me a while to get on board with how very annoying this is, but haters, I'm one of you now.

A few months ago, Mr. Improbable and I were invited to dinner on a Friday night by a Jewish friend who is more observant than we are. (Not really a high bar to clear.) After dinner, as we were all having coffee and chatting with our hosts and the other guests, the phone rang. My host let it ring. One of the guests said, "Oh, you don't answer the phone on Shabbat?" My host replied, "No, I don't answer the phone when I have guests in my house." Amen to that.

That was then. This is now. Get your Grievances on!
This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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